8 hard facts about writing for magazines

by Rachel Smith
12 December 2023

Since the glory days of the glossy, has writing for magazines changed? Can it be more of a pain in the bum? Are you often asked to do more?

Your answers are most likely: Yes, yes and yes.

If you’re keen to write for mags you may as well go in with your eyes open, so here are my 8 hard facts on writing for mags in 2023.

Good word rates do exist

It’s entirely possible to get 75c to $1 word or more – usually for custom or trade media. Just be aware that word counts can be… fluid. For example: an 800-word brief might also require you to chase images, write captions and supply stockists or contact details – but you’ll only be paid for the 800 words (whaaa? We know).

To be fair: some mags DO take all this extra work into account and pay accordingly.

Filing a story is a bit more complex

Gone are the days when you’d just email your story and invoice over, and move onto your next commission.

Mag teams are under major pressure these days and may be spread across several titles, so freelancers pick up more of the slack. That might mean doing some of the work a sub would normally do – like providing heads, sells, metadata and social media blurbs into a supplied template.

8 hard facts about writing for magazines
View the carousal over on the ‘gram

Getting paid is harder than it used to be

A lot of publishers require Purchase Order (PO) numbers for each story you file, which must be on your invoice before you can submit it.

The editorial coordinator or editor needs to supply the PO when they commission you, OR it may come after you file OR you may need to chase it, which is a punish. Plus, writing for new outlets requires getting you onto ‘the system’ which can further delay payment.

Some mags only pay on publication

If they’re titles you want to write for but they pay only on publication, make sure you’re also writing for magazines that DO pay on submission – or make sure you’re also working for other clients who pay you promptly.

Only working for mags that pay on publication can mess with your cash flow and your mental health, especially if the publication date shifts.

There are way more checks and balances

A mag might ask you to mention advertisers, or exclude its advertisers’ competitors. Your story may go through a compliance department. And many mags also request you get quote approval from experts and case studies before filing.

This is risky if the source gets gun-shy about their quotes, so always say, ‘I’m checking these quotes for accuracy only’ which I’ve found tends to stop major changes. Or read their quotes to them over the phone, rather than emailing the whole thing through.

Mags may ask for your transcripts

This is a relatively new but annoying aspect to writing for magazines – and a tricky one for journos who carve up their transcripts for different stories or use interviews as an opportunity to tease out potential future pitches.

If a magazine has landed a celebrity interview and commissions you to do it, then sure – the transcript belongs to them. But if you pitch the story AND find the source, the transcript should belong to you.

Editors can be hard to get a hold of

Some editors are super responsive and fabulous to work for. Others are basically the lynchpin in the world’s smallest team and trying to claw their way through an inbox of 400+ emails a day.

If you file a piece and hear crickets, adopt the mantra of ‘no news is good news’ and send your invoice. If your invoice isn’t paid within at least 30 days, ring the accounts department every single day until it is.

You need to get comfy with negotiation

Editors aren’t scary monsters. Many of them have probably worked as freelancers so they know the drill.

Don’t be scared to push back on a brief, ask questions or (nicely) request a higher rate if you feel the work warrants it. This is a business transaction and editors don’t want to lose good writers, so they’ll often do their best to meet you halfway if budgets allow or if they can tweak a brief.

PS. That all said, it’s still so much fun writing for magazines. It’s still a privilege to pitch a great story you want to write and get to interview incredible people. And the thrill of getting a commission in your inbox or seeing your byline on a beautiful layout NEVER gets old ❤️

Did we miss anything? Comment below about your mag-land experiences!

Rachel Smith

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